[One of my main areas of research is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint. This post talks about how the Greek text can be used to help us understand the Hebrew original. It was originally published 08/2009]
In this post I am laying a foundation for my next installment in my series on Psalm 151 in the Biblical Tradition, by discussing how to retrovert a text from one language into another. This is most commonly done when using the Septuagint in the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. Thus, in order to employ the LXX in textual criticism one must retrovert the Greek text back into Hebrew (for more information on the Septuagint and textual criticism in general see my series of posts on Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible). In many cases retroverting a text is easier said than done.
Here are some tips for retroverting a text:
Focus on the translation technique of the individual book in question. The LXX is not a uniform translation. Various translators at different times, with varying philosophies of translation and different language capability, translated different portions of the Hebrew Bible to make up the LXX. For example, the translation of the Torah is a good formal translation, the translation of the Psalter is very formal, while the translations of Proverbs and Isaiah are less so. Thus one cannot assume that the way one translator rendered a particular Hebrew word or construction will be the same fora translator of a different book. Each individual book of the LXX has its own idiosyncrasies to its translation; thus a careful examination of its translation technique is necessary before one can retrovert the text with any confidence.
Examine the different ways a translator renders a particular word. In order to figure out what Hebrew word may be behind a particular Greek word in a passage, you need to look up every instance of the Greek word in question within the biblical book and note what Hebrew word was being rendered. There are a number of useful resources that will help you with this task. If you have a Bible software package with the original language modules, then you can do a Greek lemma search and see what Hebrew was being translated. Even more ideal is if you have Emauel Tov’s The Parallel Aligned Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Texts of Jewish Scripture module where you can see the equivalent elements of the MT and the LXX (as reconstructed by the editor). For more on the different software programs available for Biblical Studies, see my Bible Software pages. If you do not have a Bible software package, then you can manually look up how a word is with Takamitsu Muraoka’s Hebrew/Aramaic Index to the Septuagint: Keyed to the Hatch-Redpath Concordance (Baker Academic, 1998; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com) which also comes included in Edwin Hatch, Henry A. Redpath, A Concordance to the Septuagint: And the other Greek Versions of the Old Testament – Including the Apocryphal Books (Second edition, two volumes in one; Includes Muraoka, “Hebrew/Aramaic Index”; Baker Academic, 1998; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com).
Identify a pattern. If a clear pattern emerges, propose a retroversion. When you examine the different ways an individual book tends to translate a word into Greek, and if there is a clear default rendering, then you can be fairly confident in proposing the retroversion. While you can never be 100% certain with any retroversion, some will be more certain than others. If a clear pattern doesn’t emerge, or if the words in question do not occur frequently enough in the book under study, then you will need to broaden your investigation to see how the word is rendered elsewhere in the LXX. While this will not produce as clear of results as the previous situation, you can still produce a workable retroversion.
With these principles in mind, the Septuagint may be employed quite fruitfully in the textual criticism of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. Of course, retroversion may also be used with texts of other languages, and even in ascertaining the relationship between Hebrew Dead Sea Scroll texts and the Septuagint (as I will seek to do in my next post on Psalm 151).
As I mentioned in my previousposts on Psalm 151 in the Biblical Tradition, there is significant debate on the relationship between the Septuagint Psalm 151 and the version of the Psalm found in the Qumran Psalms scroll (11Q5 Psalm 151A and B).
The editor of 11Q5 Psalm 151A and B, James Sanders, argues that 11QPsa 151A and B, while related to, are not identical with the Vorlage of LXX Ps 151. He further argues that “there can be no hesitancy whatever in affirming that 11QPs 151 is the original psalm” (The Psalms Scroll of Qumrân Cave 11 (11QPsa); DJD 4 [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965; buy from Amazon.com], 60), and that the LXX Psalm is a later translation of an “amalgam” of the Qumran originals (63). Most (but not all) scholars have followed Sanders in his reconstruction of the relationship between the Greek and Hebrew versions of Psalm 151. Peter Flint considers the Greek version a “transformation of two separate psalms into a single piece” (“Apocryphal Psalms,” Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls [2 volumes; Oxford University Press, 2000; buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com. ], 2:708), while his Dead Sea Scrolls Bible (HarperCollins, 1999; buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com) also popularizes Sanders’s view:
The text found in 11QPs-a represents the original Hebrew with two originally separate Psalms, which the Greek translator has reworked and synthesized into a single Psalm (p. 585).
Beyond the question of the relationship between these psalms, Sanders has little good to say about LXX Psalm 151. He calls it “meaningless” (DJD, p. 60), and maintains that without the background provided in Psalm 151A, the LXX psalm “makes little or no sense at all” (p. 59). Furthermore, he argues that the individual who brought together the Vorlage of LXX Psalm 151 destroyed “the beauty and integrity of the original” and “sacrificed not only the artistry but also the sense of the one, and probably as well of the other” (p. 63). In his popular work, The Dead Sea Psalms Scroll (Cornell University Press, 1967; buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com), Sanders further refers to the Greek version of Psalm 151 as “nearly meaningless” (p. 94) and “comparatively ridiculous” (p. 95). Sanders is not alone in his low opinion of the Septuagint Psalm 151. For instance, Strugnell echoes Sanders when he describes it as “largely meaningless” (“Notes on the Text,” 259), while Meyer considered it a “dogmatic correction” of a rustic psalm (“Die Septuaginta-Fassung von Psalm 151:1-5,” 172).
While I agree that the Qumran psalms are related to the Vorlage of LXX Psalm 151, there are significant differences between the texts that indicate that their relationship is not so simple, and that the texts are more dissimilar than even Sanders admits. In fact, I think – in line with the works of Haran, Smith, Segal, and most recently Debel (in part) – that it is more plausible that the Qumran psalm(s) are a later reworking of the shorter Hebrew Vorlage of LXX Psalm 151. Furthermore, in contrast to Sanders, I will argue that LXX Psalm 151 is a coherent text in and of itself, and that it doesn’t need 151A/B to make sense of it. In this regard I argue that while LXX Psalm 151 is shorter, it is in fact a well-constructed midrash on 1 Samuel 16-17.
In fact, I would argue that reading LXX Psalm 151 in the light of the Qumran psalms actually hampers our understanding of it, since the later Qumran versions take the psalm in a slightly different direction. In a recent article, Segal (“Literary Development,” Textus 21, 143), has made the bold claim that
the bias towards the Hebrew version of the psalm has resulted in a skewed view of the meaning of the Greek edition, as all scholars have assumed that this shorter poem [i.e., the LXX] necessarily addresses the same topics as the longer version.
While Segal overstates the case, I concur with his evaluation. In my next post I will explore in more detail the relationship between the Greek and Hebrew versions of this psalm.
As mentioned in my previour post on Septuagint Psalm 151 (first installment in my series on Psalm 151 in the Biblical Tradition), the discovery of Hebrew psalms clearly related to the Septuagint Psalm 151 created quite a stir among biblical scholars. Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Psalm 151 was only know to us from its Greek and Syriac versions. At the beginning of the last century Septuagint scholar Henry B. Swete noted that “there is no evidence that it [Ps 151] ever existed in Hebrew” (Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek [Hendrickson, 1989], p. 253; buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com), and in the 1930s Martin Noth “expressed doubts” about a Hebrew original to LXX Psalm 151 in his study of the five Apocryphal psalms and did not bother to provide a Hebrew retroversion of Psalm 151 in that study.
It was not until the discovery among the Dead Sea Scrolls of the so-called “Qumran Psalms Scroll” (11QPs-a or 11Q5; see my Scroll Introduction) that contained two Psalms (Ps 151A and B) that were clearly parallel with the LXX 151, that scholars universally recognized that LXX Psalm 151 had a Hebrew Vorlage (i.e., a Hebrew original), though the precise relationship between LXX Psalm 151 and 11Q5 Psalm 151 remained under debate.
Before we discuss the nature of the relationship between the Greek LXX Psalm 151 and the Hebrew 11Q5 Psalms 151A and 151B, it would do us well to carefully examine the psalms in question. I have already provided a translation of LXX Psalm 151 in my previous post; here I provide a translation of Psalm 151A and B as found in column 28 of 11Q5:
11Q5 Ps 151A-B
11Q5 Ps 151A & B
הללויה לדויד בן ישי
A Hallelujah of David son of Jesse.
קטן הייתי מןאחי
Smaller was I than my brothers
וצעיר מבני אבי
And the youngest of the sons of my father
וישימני רועה לצונו
And he made me shepherd of his flock
And ruler over his kids
ידי עשו עוגב
My hands made a (musical) instrument
And my fingers a lyre
ואשימה ליהוה כבוד
And I rendered glory to the Lord
אמרתי אני בנפשי
I said within myself
ההרים לוא יעדו לו
The mountains do not witness to him,
והגבעות לוא יגידו
Nor do the hills declare;
עלו֯ העצים את דברי֯
The trees have cherished my words
והצואן את מעשי֯
And the flock my works.
כי מי יגדי ומי ידבר
For who can declare and who can speak,
ומי יספר את מעשי֯ אדון
And who can recount the works of the Lord?
הכול ראה אלוה
Everything has God seen,
הכול הוא שמע
everything has he heard,
and he has heeded.
שלח נביאו למושחני
He sent his prophet to annoint me,
את שמואל לגדלני
Samuel, to make me great
יצאו אחי לקראתו
My brothers went out to meet him,
יפי התור ויפי המראה
Handsome of figure and handsome of appearance
They were tall of stature
Handsome by their hair,
לוא בחר יהוה אלוהים בם
The Lord God did not choose them.
וישלח ויקחני מאחר הצואן
But he sent and took me from behind the flock
וימשחני בשמן הקודש
And annointed me with holy oil,
וישימני נגיד לעמו
And made me leader to his people
ומושל בבני בריתו
And ruler over the sons of his covenant
תחלת גב[ו]רה ה[דו]יד
משמשחו נביא אלוהים
At the beginning of [Dav]id’s p[ow]er after the prophet of God had annointed him
אזי רא֯[י]תי פלשתי
Then I s[a]w a Philistine
מחרף ממ[ערכות האיוב]
Uttering defiances from the r[anks of the enemy].
אנוכי [ ] את
I […] ’t […]
I should note that while the translation is my own, the above reconstruction follows that by the scroll’s editor, James Sanders (which I do not entirely agree with, but I’ll discuss that in another post). The line numbers in the left-hand column are not precise; they reflect the line divisions of the editor. According to Sanders’s reconstruction, Psalm 151B begins in line 13.
In the actual scroll, the column is laid out as follows:
11Q5 Column 28
יהוה העומדים בבית יהוה בלילות שאו ידיכם קודש וברכו
את שמ יהוה יברככה יהוה מציו[ן] עושה שמים וארץ
הללויה לדויד בן ישי קטן הייתי מןאחי וצעיר מבני אבי וישימני
רועה לצונו ומושל בגדיותיו ידי עשו עוגב ואצבעותי כנור
ואשימה ליהוה כבוד אמרתי אני בנפשי ההרים לוא יעדו
לו והגבעות לוא יגידו עלו֯ העצים את דברי֯ והצואן את מעשי֯
כי מי יגדי ומי ידבר ומי יספר את מעשי֯ אדון הכול ראה אלוה
הכול הוא שמע והוא האזין שלח נביאו למושחני את שמואל
לגדלני יצאו אחי לקראתו יפי התור ויפי המראה הגבהים בקומתם
היפים בשערם לוא בחר יהוה אלוהים בם וישלח ויקחני
מאחר הצואן וימשחני בשמן הקודש וישימני נגיד לעמו ומושל בבני
תחלת גב[ו]רה ה[דו]יד משמשחו נביא אלוהים אזי רא֯[י]תי פלשתי
מחרף ממ[ערכות האיוב] אנוכי [ ] את
Here is an English translation:
11Q5 Ps 151A & B
of the Lord, who stand in the house of the Lord by night. Lift your hands in the holy place and bless
the name of the Lord May the Lord, maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion.
A Hallelujah of David son of Jesse. Smaller was I than my brothers And the youngest of the sons of my father
And he made me shepherd of his flock And ruler over his kids My hands made a (musical) instrument And my fingers a lyre
And I rendered glory to the Lord I said within myself The mountains do not witness
to him, Nor do the hills declare; The trees have cherished my words And the flock my works.
For who can declare and who can speak, And who can recount the works of the Lord? Everything has God seen,
Everything he has heard, and he has heeded. He sent his prophet to annoint me, Samuel,
to make me great My brothers went out to meet him, Handsome of figure and handsome of appearance They were tall of stature
Handsome by their hair, The Lord God did not choose them. And he sent and took me
from behind the flock And annointed me with holy oil, And made me leader to his people And ruler over the sons of
At the beginning of [Dav]id’s p[ow]er after the prophet of God had annointed him Then I s[a]w a Philistine
Uttering defiances from the r[anks of the enemy]. I […] ’t […]
As you can see, the actual scroll does not divide the Hebrew psalm into poetic lines, but takes up the width of the column with as much text as possible. (By the way, the top of the column [lines 1 and 2] consists of all but the first part of Psalm 134 [LXX Ps 133]).
Comparing Sanders’s line divisions with that of the actual scroll raises an issue common with any analysis of the Dead Sea Scrolls; the issue of editorial reconstruction. A number of aspects of Sanders’s reconstruction of Psalms 151A and B have been severely criticized by scholars — especially his reconstruction of lines 6-8. That being said, even a quick comparison of LXX Psalm 151 with this text from Qumran suggests some sort of literary relationship between the texts, though as I noted above, the precise nature of that relationship is debated.
This post is my first in a series on Psalm 151 in the Biblical Tradition. Now, some of my readers may be wondering what is this Psalm 151 that I am talking about? The biblical book of Psalms only contains 150 psalms! To you I reply, you are absolutely correct (but also a little incorrect!). The book of Psalms in the Hebrew Masoretic tradition — the tradition on which Protestants and Jews base their modern English translations — contains 150 psalms (actually this isn’t quite correct; there are Masoretic manuscripts that divide the psalms differently resulting in more or less than 150 psalms. For example, there are manuscripts that divide individual psalms differently and end up with 147, 148, 149 and even 170 psalms! Nonetheless, the Masoretic tradition is consistent in its content with modern Protestant and Jewish translations). If we turn to the Greek Septuagint (and the Syriac) tradition, however, we find an extra psalm right after Psalm 150, which has become known as “Psalm 151.” It appears that this psalm was not held with quite the same authority as the other 150 psalms, since an editorial note in the psalm title marks it as ἔξωθεν τοῦ ἀριθμοῦ (“outside the number”).
While this psalm was known for a long time from the Greek and Syriac traditions, the discovery of two Hebrew psalms clearly related to the Septuagint Psalm 151 among the Dead Sea Scrolls (dubbed “Psalm 151A and 151B” by the editor of 11Q5), has challenged our understanding of this psalm in a number of ways. It has raised significant questions surrounding the relationship between the Greek and Hebrew versions of this psalms, as well as the precise nature of the Hebrew original from which the Greek was translated. In much of this debate, the interest in the Qumran psalms has overshadowed interest in the LXX version of Psalm 151. In this series of posts I will explore these questions and any implications they may have to our understanding of the development of the book of Psalms. More specifically, I want to look at the relationship between LXX Ps 151 and 11Q5 Ps 151A and 151B and then provide an analysis of Psalm 151 as a psalm in its own right.
But first, let me provide the actual psalm itself as well as an English translation:
This Psalm is autobiographical. Regarding David and outside the number. [When he fought Goliath in single combat.]
Μικρὸς ἤμην ἐν τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς μου
I was small among my brothers,
καὶ νεώτερος ἐν τῷ οἴκῳ τοῦ πατρός μου,
and the youngest in my father’s house;
ἐποίμαινον τὰ πρόβατα τοῦ πατρός μου.
I would shepherd my father’s sheep.
αἱ χεῖρές μου ἐποίησαν ὄργανον,
My hands made an instrument;
οἱ δάκτυλοί μου ἥρμοσαν ψαλτήριον.
my fingers tuned a harp.
καὶ τίς ἀναγγελεῖ τῷ κυρίῳ μου;
But who will report to my lord?
αὐτὸς κύριος, αὐτὸς εἰσακούει.
The Lord himself, he listens.
αὐτὸς ἐξαπέστειλεν τὸν ἄγγελον αὐτοῦ
It was he who sent his messenger
καὶ ἦρέν με ἐκ τῶν προβάτων τοῦ πατρός μου
and took me from my father’s sheep
καὶ ἔχρισέν με ἐν τῷ ἐλαίῳ τῆς χρίσεως αὐτοῦ.
and anointed me with his anointing oil.
οἱ ἀδελφοί μου καλοὶ καὶ μεγάλοι,
My brothers were handsome and tall,
καὶ οὐκ εὐδόκησεν ἐν αὐτοῖς κύριος.
but the Lord took no delight in them.
ἐξῆλθον εἰς συνάντησιν τῷ ἀλλοφύλῳ,
I went out to meet the foreigner,
καὶ ἐπικατηράσατό με ἐν τοῖς εἰδώλοις αὐτοῦ,
and he cursed me by his idols.
ἐγὼ δὲ σπασάμενος τὴν παῤ αὐτοῦ μάχαιραν
But I, having drawn the sword from him,
I beheaded him,
καὶ ἦρα ὄνειδος ἐξ υἱῶν Ισραηλ.
and removed reproach from Israel’s sons.
This psalm has been aptly described as an autobiographical midrash on the early life of David as recorded in 1 Samuel 16–17. It weaves together incidents from David’s adolescence recorded in 1 Samuel 16-17: his anointing (16:1-13), his entry into Saul’s service as a musician (16:14-23), and his victory over Goliath (chap. 17). Significantly, these three episodes hang together uneasily in their context in Samuel, but are brought together in this poetic midrash connecting David’s anointing by Samuel with his victory over Goliath as an example of the Lord’s presence with David.
I will offer some more analysis of this psalm in a later post.